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Feds' marijuana task force rules out storefront weed

by papapuff » Wed Mar 15, 2017 11:41 am

The North Bay Nugget

'We'd rather take our time and do it right than rush into something and regret it later'

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Nipissing-Timiskaming MP Anthony Rota expects to see legislation this spring to legalize marijuana.

The challenge, Rota says, is “making sure we get it right.

“We need to make sure we have it dispensed to places children can't get to, making sure that only adults can get to it and people of age,” he said Tuesday.

“That is what is taking the most time right now. I was talking to Bill Blair (parliamentary secretary to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould) and he was saying we're likely to have something this spring.
“We'd rather take our time and do it right than rush into something and regret it later. It comes down to how we regulate it and how we regulate the distribution”

Blair, the former Toronto police chief tasked with shaping the legislation, has been travelling across Canada talking with police and community leaders about the plan to legalize and regulate the drug for recreational use.

Rota believes legalization will be a “benefit overall,” including the additional tax revenue.

“There are some medical benefits to marijuana and it works well for those who need it most,” he said.

Also, Rota says the legislation means people will no longer have a criminal record for simple possession.

“I see it often when someone will come into my office,” he said. “They're now in their 40s or 50s. But when they were in their teens or early 20s, they were busted and got caught with marijuana or something minor. And suddenly they have a criminal record that follows them through life.

“We saw it happen during prohibition when people were in possession of alcohol. Now it's accepted.”

Speaking with Postmedia earlier this month, Blair said the responsibility for determining the regulatory framework and the environment for distribution rests with the provinces.

“Within our constitution, that’s their responsibility,” he said. “Whatever systems the provinces choose to put in place, we want to make sure it is an effective regime for keeping this out of the hands of kids, as well as competing effectively with organized crime.

“It really is a decision based on competing values,” Blair said. “On the one hand, we want to protect kids from any potential health harm related to its use. And on the other, you don’t want to (push) this mass market of young people over to organized crime.”

Blair admitted the change will have an impact on local policing.

“I believe we’re going to have to ask more of the police, particularly at the introduction of these regulations, while people learn how this system will work.”

With files from Dale Carruthers, Postmedia Network
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by papapuff » Wed Mar 15, 2017 1:16 pm

The Barrie Examiner

Blair in Barrie for marijuana roundtable

By Bob Bruton, Barrie Examiner
Wednesday, March 15, 2017

This spring's federal legislation is just the spark for legalizing marijuana in Canada, says the government's point man.

“This is a process, not an event,” said Bill Blair, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, who was in Barrie Wednesday.

“Bringing forward federal legislation ... enables the important work of developing that strict regulatory framework that controls production, distribution and consumption.”

The Liberals have committed to introducing legislation for cannabis legalization in spring, 2017.

Blair, MP for Scarborough Southwest, is on a cross-country tour to discuss this, meeting with Canadians and various stakeholders.

His round-table at Barrie City Hall Wednesday raised some familiar concerns about how the entire process will work.

Blair said regulations about marijuana production are primarily a federal responsibility, overseen by Health Canada, and regulations about distribution are primarily a provincial responsibility - done in consultation with the local jurisdiction.

“I think all three level of government have an important role to play in this, and municipalities as well will – because they have the local police force, the local bylaw enforcement people ... who have a role in enforcement and oversight of these regulations, to make sure they're effective,” he said.

Blair said the marijuana business is worth between $7 and $8 billion a year in Canada and it's controlled overwhelmingly by criminals.

He said that whatever revenue is generated by marijuana sales, once they are legal, will be re-invested in research, public education, treatment, prevention and rehabilitation.

“Our focus ... is a public health approach, all about reducing social and health harms,” Blair said, “and not about revenue generation.

“How do we do a better job protecting our kids than is currently done. We have the highest rates of marijuana usage among our young people than any country in the world, and that's unacceptable and presents an unacceptable risk.

“We need to do a better job of keeping our communities safe by taking the enormous profits of this criminal enterprize away from the criminal element, and re-investing whatever money might be generated from this into things that actually make it safer for our kids, safer for our communities and for the health of our citizens,” Blair said.

There's no specific date this spring when legislation to legalize marijuana will be introduced, but Blair said it's on track.

Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman, who was part of Wednesday's roundtable, said a number of questions remain unanswered.

“One of the biggest issues is making sure that if there is a 'legalization and regulation' approach, there are sufficient resources to ensure enforcement,” he said.

“So, for example, if distribution and consumption is to be regulated, who is doing that? Is it expected to be the local police or bylaw (enforcement), or will it be Health Canada or agencies like the AGCO (Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario)? How do we ensure it is never sold to anyone underage?”

Lehman said if it’s to be left to local enforcement, municipalities will need the people, training and tools to do it right – and without those resources there will be problems.

“The government wants to take a public health approach to this, whereby production and distribution would be legalized and carefully controlled – which would be better than today’s situation where essentially organized crime is producing and distributing.”

The mayor noted these decisions are often made by senior levels of government, but the impacts and costs fall to municipalities and their police forces.

“I am concerned that legalization will increase these burdens, although they may alleviate others,” Lehman said.

He said Ottawa is speaking with the provinces about ensuring that local enforcement is given the tools it needs to ensure there are tight controls on age requirements for sales and enforcement against illegal production.

“I also think it would be better if the government set regulations across the country in terms of where and how production and distribution is permitted,” Lehman said. “While local municipalities could possibly control some of this through zoning, for example, it will add to the regulatory burden and complexity if there are potentially overlapping regulations at the federal, provincial and municipal levels, and lead to differing standards in different places.”

John Brassard, Conservative Barrie-Innisfil MP, said his main worries with legalized marijuana are the obvious ones - the impact on health, public safety and drug-impaired driving.

“Who is going to pay for the costs associated with enforcement?” Brassard said, noting Barrie and Innisfil shoulder nearly 90% of the burden of infrastructure needs - and with less than 10% of the tax Canadians pay to three levels of government.

“The cost of enforcement will only add to that burden. Property taxpayers should not have to fund the Liberal plan to legalize marijuana.”

Brassard says the difficult part now will be proposing legislation which addresses the concerns of Canadian communities and policing, as well as Canada’s commitment to international treaties and conventions with respect to illicit drugs.

“The Liberal plan to legalize marijuana is not as simple as making a campaign promise,” he said.

Alex Nuttall, Conservative MP for Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte, said he's reserving judgement until he sees the legislation.

“It's hard to comment on until we have all the information,” he said. “What age that it will be legalized, how the actual selling of this product will be done, will it be done through existing store fronts, will it be open for competition, what's the government's role in regulating it, and ensuring it doesn't end up in our young people's hands.

“What we know today is there are a lot of Liberal friends making a lot of money on this deal, and it looks and appears that there's insiders at the trough.”
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by papapuff » Thu Mar 16, 2017 3:11 pm

Huffington Post Canada

Marc Davis
Business writer, health and wellness blogger

Culling Cannabis Dispensaries Exposes Trudeau's Hypocrisy

Posted: 03/16/2017

Canada's medical marijuana (MMJ) dispensaries may soon become an endangered species.

They're already in danger of being legislated out of business. But it now seems that Canada's police agencies have declared open season on them.

Law enforcement raids on dispensaries have been all over the news lately.

The fact that Canada's "pot czar" is ex-cop Bill Blair already has dispensaries and cottage-industry cannabis cultivators shuddering. After all, he built his law enforcement career on throwing these kinds of people behind bars.

To many of them, Blair is still the guy they call "Bill the Narc," someone who had their homes raided by SWAT teams. That's because he was a long-time undercover narcotics cop before he become Toronto's police chief. He retired in 2015.

Canada's medical marijuana dispensaries may soon become an endangered species.

These days, Blair is a Toronto Liberal MP and parliamentary secretary to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and it's Blair's job to help craft the regulatory framework for recreational cannabis.

He says he's all about doing what's right for Canadians. After all, why wouldn't he? The Liberals promised legalization at the ballot box and swept into power in 2015 with the help of millions of pro-pot voters.

However, politicians are cynical creatures and Blair isn't as progressive-minded as he claims.

Consider this: he's the same guy who shot down Bill C-246 last year -- which aimed to strengthen Canada's notoriously weak, antiquated animal cruelty laws.

In fact, he rejected the notion that Canadians unanimously agree that the rape, torture or vicious killing of stray cats and dogs should be criminal offences. There needs to be more consultation with the general public to see if we all really feel that way, he claimed.

Under current laws, only household pets are worthy of legal protection simply because they're considered to be personal possessions, much like an automobile or a sofa. And apparently that's just fine with Blair.

The Government has a Double Standard

What's really interesting is that most dispensaries diligently pay taxes to Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) -- funds that are shared with the various provinces where they operate.

Among them is Canada's first-ever dispensary -- the Vancouver-based B.C. Compassion Club Society, which has been operating for 20 years.

It has never been harassed or shut down by the police. This is largely due to the fact that it operates discreetly while catering to genuinely ill medical marijuana patients (unlike some dispensaries). Also, it's a non-profit venture, unlike the vast majority of dispensaries.

Conversely, the world's most famous cannabis activist, Marc Emery, has been running a several highly visible, profit-oriented dispensaries for the last year or so.

It was his takedown on drug trafficking charges last week by Toronto police that garnered the biggest headlines of all the most recent police raids across Canada.

All told, hundreds of dispensaries have popped up all over the land over the past few years and they have collectively paid CRA tens of millions of dollars.

Emery says he, alone, has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes, including payroll contributions, in just the last few months.

Now he's accusing the government of hypocrisy for accepting tax money from pot sales while at the same time cracking down on their dispensaries.

Marc Emery's accusing the government of hypocrisy for accepting tax money from pot sales while at the same time cracking down on their dispensaries.

This makes the federal government a willing participant in the big-dollar MMJ dispensary business, he argues.

I have to agree.

Meanwhile, one of the Toronto police's arguments for putting Emery out of business is that his products may not be safe for public consumption. This is because dispensaries aren't legally required to test them for contaminants.

If this is the case, police forces from shore to shore can use the same argument to shut down nearly all of Canada's dispensaries for not testing at all, or for not testing to the exacting standards of Health Canada.

Kicking the "Can"-nabis Down the Road

A day before Emery's highly-publicized take down, there was another setback for the cannabis community: the federal government dashed any hopes that Canada would legalize recreational pot as early as spring, 2018.

This one announcement alone wiped out several hundred million dollars worth of value from Canada's publicly-traded, industrial-scale MMJ growers.

Commonly known as "licensed producers" (LPs), they've been aggressively expanding to scale-up in time to cater to a projected eight million recreational consumers.

Most LPs were gambling that spring/summer of next year would usher-in this new multi-billion dollar industry. But they guessed wrong.

Now they may end up with lots of surplus growing capacity that could not just hurt their share prices, but also their financials.

Along with the LPs, the rest of Canada will likely have to wait until spring of 2019 (or later) for legal recreational cannabis to finally become a reality.

This buys the federal government enough time to devise what Emery refers to as "very tight, restrictive controls" for the cultivation and sale of recreational cannabis.

In effect, this will pander to LPs and other big corporate players by presumably putting all the small growers and dispensaries out of business, he told me.

"The government is trying to steal the cannabis culture from the people who make up that culture and who have long been crusaders for legalization.

"The new legal system will be a cynical, deeply-controlled, top-down type of thing that favours the business establishment."

Dispensaries also deserve to be accommodated when legalization finally arrives -- but with conditions.

Here's my take: dispensary owners like Emery have tirelessly fought for many years for more liberalized cannabis laws. They've even racked up hefty legal bills while pleading their case to the highest court in the land.

Ultimately, they've helped pave the way for the mainstreaming of medical marijuana, which has mainly benefitted "Big Business", a.k.a. LPs.

So dispensaries also deserve to be accommodated when legalization finally arrives -- but with conditions.

Just like LPs, dispensaries should be regulated and monitored to ensure that their products are always safe for public consumption. This would provide a more level playing field with competing LPs.

If instead these pot pioneers are crushed underfoot, it will leave an ugly stain on Canadian democracy.

Follow my coverage of Canadian cannabis stocks at
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by papapuff » Fri Mar 24, 2017 11:14 am

The Globe and Mail

Task-force leader on legalizing marijuana urges prohibition, for now

VANCOUVER — The Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Mar. 23, 2017

A former Liberal cabinet minister who recently chaired a panel guiding Ottawa’s push to legalize cannabis says police everywhere should enforce the existing prohibition of marijuana, despite several communities in British Columbia choosing to regulate – not raid – illegal pot shops.

Anne McLellan, head of an official task force that submitted recommendations to Ottawa on how best to legalize cannabis, said Thursday that Vancouver crafted Canada’s first municipal marijuana bylaw in response to what was a “growing difficult situation for them.”

But the former minister of public safety, health and justice in the Liberal governments of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin said other cities should not follow suit before the current laws change, echoing what the federal government has repeatedly said when asked about the rise of illegal dispensaries.

“Nobody would deny that there are some practical problems at street level, absolutely, nobody denies that,” said Ms. McLellan, who was in Vancouver speaking at Simon Fraser University’s downtown campus on the work the task force did last year.

“Cities should wait until the law changes instead of making their own rules now and hoping to adapt them to a federal framework later on,” she said. “I cannot advocate that anybody break existing laws. We are a nation of law-abiding citizens.”

Ottawa is expected to table legislation this spring that will legalize and regulate recreational marijuana over the next two years. While the stores are still illegal under federal law, they have proliferated in cities such as Vancouver and Victoria, where local politicians argue their rules can eventually be adapted to any national framework regulating the storefront sale of the drug.

All dispensaries and compassion clubs across Canada still operate outside the federal government’s medical-marijuana program, which permits about 30 industrial-scale growers to sell dried flowers and bottles of cannabis oil directly to patients through the mail.

The federal government has said its two core priorities behind legalizing the recreational sale of marijuana are: to keep the drug out of the hands of young people and to stop the flow of money to organized criminals involved in the production and sale of the drug on the black market.

Vancouver’s approach to regulating its dispensaries stands in stark contrast to Toronto’s, where police and politicians say a continuing crackdown has become more urgent as these pot shops have become a magnet for violent thieves because some owners are reluctant to report robberies.

Civic and provincial politicians across the country are waiting on the coming legalization bill to give some guidance as to where the drug may be sold once it is legalized.

Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang, architect of the local dispensary bylaw, said he was disappointed in Ms. McLellan and Ottawa’s rhetoric, noting they both appear to be eschewing the public-health approach of his city, and that of other communities in B.C. also licensing these illegal stores.

“It’s sort of like we’re in purgatory,” he said Thursday. “And when you’re in purgatory, it’s not about allocating our resources, it’s about advocating what’s right for our citizens – that’s what Vancouver has done.”

He said he wants Ms. McLellan to push federal ministers to implement the new legislation faster because local governments across the country are wasting millions of dollars containing the grey cannabis market.

“When it comes to resources, the federal government better provide good resources for us to help enforce and help manage what they want us to do,” said Mr. Jang, a clinical psychiatrist. “Otherwise, we’re going to be back to square one.”

The Union of B.C. Municipalities has long advocated that cities deserve to receive some of the eventual tax revenue from recreational cannabis sales if they are expected to enforce federal cannabis laws.

The federal Liberals have said any pot proceeds would be directed to addiction treatment, mental-health support and education programs, and that provinces and territories will also have a significant say in how cannabis revenues are spent. A recent study from the parliamentary budget watchdog predicted that about 60 per cent of marijuana taxation will flow to the provinces.

Ms. McLellan, now in the public-policy division of Bennett Jones, one of the Canada’s leading law firms operating in the cannabis sector, said different communities have different concerns about the drug, as evidenced by Toronto and Vancouver’s contrasting approach to dealing with illegal dispensaries.
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